Hong Kong unions urge Cathay Pacific to end staff intimidation

Hong Kong unions accuse Chinese aviation officials of dismissing airline staff over involvement in anti-gov’t protests.

Cathay Pacific plane
Cathay Pacific Airways has become the most visible corporate casualty of recent anti-government protests after China demanded the company suspend staff involved in the demonstrations [File: Bobby Yip/Reuters]

Cathay Pacific Airways, which is caught in the crosswinds between authorities in Beijing and anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, must put an end to “all forms of white terror”, trade unions in the Chinese-ruled city said on Friday.

The carrier has become the biggest corporate casualty of the protests after China demanded it suspend staff involved in, or who support, the demonstrations that have plunged the former British colony into a political crisis.

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) called a news conference after the sudden dismissal of Rebecca Sy, the head of Cathay Dragon’s Airlines Flight Attendants’ Association, after a 17-year career.

Sy said she was fired, without explanation, after managers saw and confirmed her Facebook account. HKCTU said 14 people have been fired so far over the protests and called Sy’s dismissal a “blatant act of suppression”.

“All the employees are being frightened, not just cabin crews, but even the management,” Sy said. “My colleagues are all terrified because of its white terror.”

White “terror” is a common expression to describe anonymous acts that create a climate of fear.

Cathay Pacific did not immediately respond to a request by Reuters news agency for comment. Shares of the airline were down more than one percent, lagging a 0.6 percent gain in the benchmark Hang Seng Index.

Sy’s departure, which Cathay confirmed on Friday, follows last week’s shock resignation of Chief Executive Rupert Hogg, the highest-profile corporate casualty of the unrest.

Cathay pilots and cabin crew have described a campaign of political denunciations, sackings and telephone searches by Chinese aviation officials.

Recent weeks have been extremely challenging for its employees, the Hong Kong-based carrier, which is 30 percent owned by Air China, said in advance of Friday’s news conference.

“We thank all our dedicated staff who are committed to serving our customers in a professional manner,” said James Tong, its director of corporate affairs.

The demonstrations, which have occasionally shut the airport and businesses in the Asian financial hub, still have broad support, despite some violent clashes between police and protesters.

HKCTU said white “terror” loomed for the entire aviation industry and demanded that Sy be immediately reinstated.

Walking a tightrope between the protests and political masters in Beijing, many Hong Kong firms are opting to toe the Communist Party line to avoid potential repercussions following the experience of Cathay Pacific Airways.

Source: Reuters